Monthly Archives: April 2010

Poetry Friday: This is Just to Say

This is just to say…

kids are awesome.

My Grade 4 lovelies are going to be writing apology poems, inspired by Joyce Sidman’s genius collection, This is Just to Say.

So today, we read and played around with William Carlos Williams’ famous poem, and at recess, two of my girls performed “their own version,” which they had just composed together two seconds before.

Here’s the original:

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Now here’s the girls’ poem:

This is Just to Say

I hate you

the plums
that I sent you
to say sorry
were bad

P.S. I lied
about the plums I ate
being cold
and sweet

I think you should know
by now

It’s days like today that make teaching fabulous.


The Bride’s Farewell

Since the first time I read it, Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now has occupied a firm spot on my Top Ten Favourite Books of All list. Funny that an author who produced a book I love so dearly didn’t completely win me over with her subsequent efforts. Now I read them, and I could see they were the product of the same brilliant artistic mind, but neither Just in Case nor What I Was seized my heart the way her first book did. It might be because I know I am a total sucker for romance, and what with How I Live Now being such a desperately romantic book, I suppose I was expecting more along that line with Rosoff’s next books. There aren’t many books that when I simply think of them, pull my mind away from my real life for a few moments as I drift back to the most memorable scenes from the narrative. How I Live Now is certainly that sort of book for me, and I’m happy to report that The Bride’s Farewell charmed me from beginning to end. It doesn’t grab you with the same gut-wrenching intensity as How I Live Now, but rather it sneaks up on you, as Rosoff weaves an atmospheric, romantic tale of love abandoned, love lost and found. So there’s romance. Check. And galloping across the windswept moors. Double check.

The novel opens as Pell Ridley prepares to ride away from her family’s humble country cottage in the early morning of her wedding day. She is heading for Salisbury Fair where she hopes to find work and start life on her own terms, desperate to avoid the harsh existence of her mother and other women in her small community. Just as she takes one last look back, her young, mute brother Bean appears on the path. He ends up going with her. Of course everything proves to be even harder than Pell might have predicted. The novel is set in the New Forest, and the wild landscape is beautifully evoked throughout. There is a Gypsy woman and a whole caravan of children. There are many horses and honest folk and chancers and there’s a mysterious poacher. Oh, and there are two brilliant dogs in the book. One is named Dicken and I am smitten with him.

Here’s Rosoff speaking about her book:

It is a story that feels classic already. It’s about recognizing your family and leaving them behind, hoping for better than you have and learning that life is a risk. Needless to say, the language is lovely. There are passages here that you will want to double back over and read again. If you aren’t a horse person at the beginning of the book, you will be by the end. It made me want a white pony. Really badly. And a moor to ride across as well.

For the hopeless romantic who doesn’t mind a shade of Hardy gloom and hardship. Perfection.

The Bride’s Farewell is published by Doubleday in Canada.

I regret to inform you…

… that if you are reading anything but this right now:

you really ought to put a bookmark into your book and get your hands on this one instead.

I haven’t been this into a story for quite a while.

Three words: Jane Austen, magic and highwaymen.

Oh, and one more… trilogy.

Thank heavens.

Here’s the adorable trailer for Stephanie Burgis’s A Most Improper Magick:

Poetry Friday: April Rain Song

It really hasn’t rained much around here this April, but I have been enjoying the bright song of the cardinals on my walk to school. Isn’t this little sopping red fellow adorable?  Here’s a classic spring rain poem:

April Rain Song – by Langston Hughes

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night—

And I love the rain.

(From Poetry Foundation. Photo from stockxchng).

How to Make Monday Funday

Hey, listen! I have an idea! I know how to add a little zip to my impending Monday. I just read David Bruins and Hilary Leung’s uber cute picture book, The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear and I’m thinking…

How much fun would it be to play this with twenty-six 9/10 year-olds?

I am psyched.

I’m pretty sure this can count for our required daily physical activity, yes?

You could play the game online here… but that’s only necessary if you don’t have your own collection of real live kidlets at your command.

(I will probably regret this, but June is not very far off now so I think I can make it).

The book has groovy simple stylized cartoon illustrations which are the high point of a fairly predictable storyline and message. Worth reading for the design and for the hours of fun the game is bound to bring you and yours.

And then there’s this:

Beyond adorable.

The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear is published by Kids Can Press, makers of very stylish picture books.

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors

When I tell you that Francisco X. Stork’s The Last Summer of the Death Warriors is a story about the meaning of life, I’m not kidding. I’m not making a dramatic statement just to be dramatic and make you want to rush out and get your hands on this book. The best way to describe the story is to say that it explores the meaning of life. In his novel, Stork’s two main characters wrestle with their inner demons and try to answer some of life’s biggest questions: What is my purpose? How should I live? What matters most? This is not a reading experience for someone who needs action on every page. It’s for readers who appreciate subtlety, who like to think about characters’ motivations, who enjoy reading authentic conversations and for whom watching the growth of character happening throughout the narrative is just as compelling as nail-biting scenarios or intricate mysteries. It’s a beauty, in a quiet “I could be a great indie movie” type of way.

After the deaths of his father and his sister in the span of just a couple of months, seventeen-year-old Pancho ends up at a Catholic orphanage. Even though the cause of his sister’s death was “undetermined,” he can’t get the idea out of his head that she was murdered by the guy she was seeing, and he can think of little else besides finding that man and killing him. Revenge is all there is for him. He literally cannot imagine living without avenging his sister’s death. Then he meets D.Q., another teen at the orphanage, who is dying of brain cancer. D.Q. is quite a character. He hardly ever stops talking. He has a lot opinions and he is busy working on writing The Death Warrior Manifesto, in which he is attempting to outline how best to live one’s life. As soon as he meets Pancho, D.Q. latches onto him and decides that their fates are intertwined. He invites Pancho to go with him to Albuquerque where he’ll be getting experimental treatment for his illness, and where he hopes to win the love of a girl he met there named Marisol. Pancho agrees to go with him, but mostly because the journey brings him closer to getting the revenge he is desperate for. Their travels take both young men in directions they hadn’t predicted.

One of the many remarkable things about The Last Summer of the Death Warriors is that it doesn’t turn preachy, at any point, even though it is filled up with wisdom for readers to take away. Also, the characters feel real, not like mouth pieces for some kind of message. They talk the way teens would. They relate to one another the way real teens do. You can imagine that two friends going through something like this would act just this way. You believe it. I just loved the idea that often when we’re facing something big in our lives (like death) we tend to look for or expect some sort of grand revelation to happen so that we “get it,” but that life doesn’t usually work that way. There may not be a grand revelation, but there’s a good chance you’ll still learn something, some small piece of meaning might be found.

I think that The Last Summer of the Death Warriors has the power to change your life a little bit. It’s that good, that thoughtful and moving. I think it’s part of the answer a lot of us readers seek, a piece of that bigger “something” we wish to understand and that the best stories sometimes offer.

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors is published by Arthur A. Levine Books. Go get it.

(This post is cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire).

Rockin’ Operation Teen Book Drop (with an accomplice)

Today is Operation Teen Book Drop, and if you haven’t dropped a book yet, or bought one to support a tribal library, it’s not too late. Visit readergirlz for all the details and then join our Post-Op party tonight at 6pm PST, ppm EST.

I enlisted an accomplice to accomplish my drop today. My fella is a high school teacher, so I figured he was the best way to get the most books into teens’ hands to celebrate Teen Literature Day.

He even attached the bookplates and took photos of all of the drops.

Here are some of the pictures:

And hey look! A real live readerguy snagging one of those awesome titles:

And that’s how it’s done.

Happy TBD day!

Here comes the big, mean dust bunny!

There are dust bunnies in my house.

And all of them are mean. And big. And persistent.

So when I picked up Jan Thomas’ Here comes the big, mean dust bunny! (follow up to Rhyming Dust Bunnies) I was thinking, “Do I really need more big, mean dust bunnies?”

Um yes, apparently I do.

I think it’s because not all of the dust bunnies in this book are big and mean. In fact, most of them are small-ish and cute (and I have a soft spot for the little blue guy who isn’t the fluffiest bunny in the woods).

This is a picture book that is sure to make story time a hoot. It is simple and adorable, with dynamic and bold illustrations. The dust bunnies have a shaggy, muppet-like appearance and their expressions make them instantly endearing and a little bit crazy. Thomas’s book is proof that much of the time the best picture books are about a clever, slightly wacky premise, brought to life with illustrations that perfectly match the tone and style of the story.

I love dust bunnies. Well… I love these dust bunnies.

Here comes the big, mean dust bunny! is published by Beach Lane Books.


Take a few moments and just stare at the stunning cover of Malinda Lo’s debut novel, Ash:

It was important for you to do that, because a) it’s just plain beautiful to gaze upon, and b) I think it’s rare to find a cover that conveys to perfection so much of the emotion of the novel, and even suggests simply through the image, the most significant themes that the novel explores. I know that I’ve been wanting to read Malinda Lo’s book from the second I saw the cover for the first time. It has real draw, don’t you think? Once you’ve read the book, you’ll appreciate that there could not have been a better cover for Ash. It captures the often dark tone of the novel, its mystery, the importance of the natural world in the narrative, and the grief and isolation and need of the main character, all in one understated but powerful image. Take note publishers. That is the way to do a cover.

It’s hard to review a book that everyone else has already showered with love. And Ms. Lo has been showered with love for her debut. To begin, let’s just say, as much as I admire the cover, I admire the storytelling just as much, plus a little more. Ash is Cinderella reimagined, or as Lo puts it in this video, her novel is a retelling of Cinderella, with a twist:

I’m always taken by a book with strong and consistent mood. Ash has mood, in spades. It’s a little magical. There’s the dark mystery of the Wood. The sense of longing and isolation. All that mingles around together in a most satisfying manner. Of courses, a lot of the buzz about this book has been about the same-sex romance, but Ash is not just a book about that. It’s about loss and loneliness more than anything else, and how that shapes and changes a person. But back to the love story :)…  It’s very well done. It builds at just the right pace, in a way that seems natural, without rushing or taking over everything else that was happening, as many love stories do. Part of the appeal of Ash is that it isn’t just one thing. It isn’t entirely a “fairy book,” or a romance, or a book about grieving. Somehow it manages to contain elements of all of these sorts of stories without any of the parts feeling shallow or underdeveloped and unconvincing. There’s real richness in this book, from beginning to end, and it will get you thinking, which isn’t something that all fairy tale retellings manage. Ash is not only about story, but it is an awfully good one.

Readers will be very pleased to know that Malinda Lo has a companion book to Ash coming out in Spring 2011, titled Huntress.

Ash is published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge

Earth Day is coming up soon and the latest Magic School Bus science picture book, The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge is an engaging and informative book for teachers to bring into the classroom for Earth Day lessons.

In the past I’ve used many of the titles in this series in the classroom, and they really do offer quite a lot of science content with just the right degree of sophistication for a younger audience. This latest installment in the nonfiction series is an excellent intro to the science of global warming, with the science woven nicely into another wacky adventure with the Friz. It’s familiar territory, but it works and it should please kids who are science buffs and fans of the Magic School Bus gang too.

I’d say the most engaging aspect of the text is the design, the way that a lot of info is conveyed on every page. There are inserts and sidebars, mini-comics, maps and diagrams. Each spread is packed with things to look at:

Most kids enjoy having so much choice in what to look at, and this book offers that kind of reading experience, a bit like reading a science magazine that has lots of graphics and text boxes everywhere. There is a website devoted to the series, with activities and more information on all sorts of science topics. On April 20th, author Joanna Cole and illustrator Bruce Degen will be joining Ms. Frizzle to celebrate Earth Day and to discuss their new book at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey. Readers may tune in for a webcast on Tuesday, April 20th at 1pm ET / 10am PT. Simply register online, and join in on the 20th. Visit to register.

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge is published by Scholastic Press.